Today, many people build what are known as model railroads, that is, models of those long, multi-ton beasts that keep you from going to and from work. Many people see them as an annoyance when traveling, me included, but railroads serve the large task of hauling billions of tons of freight across this great continent. With that, even though I might find trains annoying, I am always captivated by the jobs these trains preform. I also do love trains when NOT traveling, hence the point of this blog and everything in it.
The point of this long, ten part article on building a model railroad is to educate viewers of this site on the art of building a model railroad. Model railroads are just that, art. And like art, there are many different ways of building a model railroad. While the last set of articles on building a model railroad focused on how I build railroads, this set of articles will focus on how OTHERS build there railroads.
There are as many ways to building a railroad as there are modelers. That said, it is impossible to explain ALL the methods of constructing a railroad. However, there are several methods which stand out in the modern techniques of building a model railroad. The techniques I will attempt to cover are as follows:
- The classic "table top" railroad. Most modelers know what I am talking about, as do many non-modelers. The table top railroad was perhaps the first style of modeling a railroad, and all other forms of construction, except for a few, are merely modifications of this style of construction. The table top method uses a flat surface to put all the track and scenery on. It is basic, cheap, and simple.
- The new, but tried and true, "foam board method." Unlike the table top method, the foam board method uses foam, or a combination of wood and foam, to build the scenery substructure. This method is lighter than the others except for the "foam and plaster" method.
- The "cookie cutter" and plaster method. This method is completely different from the table top method. If is a flexible, but heavy way of building a railroad which makes grades easier and landscape more vertical. This method also uses a lot of wood, but is simple once practiced a bit.
- The "foam and plaster" method. This method uses foam to create the basic outline of the landscape, but uses plaster cloth (a matrix membrane filled with plaster powder) to give the scenery support. This method is lightweight and strong which make it a favorite for modelers who move their layouts a lot.
- The "paper shell" method. This is a new method, which is very cheap that uses paper to make the scenery shell, and is reinforced with plaster cloth. For this method, I will be using a Model Railroader Magazine article to help explain.
These methods are common, or are thought to be common in the future in model railroading.
Things these methods have in common:
Most model railroads have several things in common, no matter what method of construction is used. However, keep in mind that all things in life have exceptions, so the following will be generally true:
- Peach: Bench work. Bench work is anything that supports the whole railroad. Most layouts have wood for bench work as it is strong, easy to cut and use, plus works beautifully at being mechanical.
- Brown: Fascia. I only recently started using fascia, which is a panel in front of the layout that disguises all the sub structure and bench work. Some of these techniques discussed need a fascia, some don't, but more often than not, something will be in the front of the layout, making it look nice.
- Pink: Layout sub-structure. ALL layouts have something between the bench work and the track. This is because the track, and scenery need a smooth surface to be modeled on.
- Purple: Scenery substructure. Scenery will most times have a further layer of material (like plaster cloth) to give it strength.
- Red and green: Track and structure support. Track needs support as well as the cities which the trains travel through. So some material is usually needed to give that support.
Things to keep in mind about this:
- Some things like the Scenery substructure, the track and structure support, and the layout substructure are sometimes the same thing, or a combination of two things. All the methods of construction, however has something to support the surface.
- In the instance of the "cookie cutter" method of construction, the bench work does support the track and structures, but it is usually raised above the regular bench work level via risers.
- Backdrops are sometimes used too. The backdrop is a panel on the back of the layout which gives a feeling of distance and expanse through a mural-type scene. This is another thing a person may want to include when building a railroad.
So there is an overview of the different techniques used to build a model railroad. The next section will be all about planning your railroad. Keep watching as this series continues.